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Ukraine president tells IOC boss he does not support Russia athletes returning as neutrals

Volodymyr Zelenskyy

KYIV, UKRAINE - JULY 03, 2022 - President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pictured during a joint briefing with President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. This photo cannot be distributed in the Russian Federation. (Photo credit should read Yevhen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Future Publishing via Getty Imag

In a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he expressed disappointment at the possibility of Russians and Belarusians returning to international competition as neutral athletes.

“Since February, 184 Ukrainian athletes have died as a result of Russia’s actions,” Zelenskyy said, according to a press release. “One cannot try to be neutral when the foundations of peaceful life are being destroyed and universal human values are being ignored.”

The IOC confirmed that Bach and Zelenskyy spoke on the phone on Wednesday.

“In the call, the Ukrainian President requested the full isolation of Russia and Russians from the world community,” according to the IOC. “From his point of view, this must also apply to athletes. In this context, the IOC President explained the unifying mission of the IOC and the Olympic Games enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

“At the end of this open and constructive discussion, both Presidents agreed to stay in contact.”

Russians and Belarusians were banned in February by most international sports federations, acting after an IOC recommendation after Russia invaded Ukraine. The IOC said then that a dilemma was created if Russians and Belarusians were still able to compete, while many Ukrainian athletes were prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country.

Bach recently added that, after the invasion and before the bans, some governments refused to issue visas for athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete, and other governments prohibited their athletes from competing against athletes from Russia and Belarus. That also led to the IOC’s recommendation.

“The participation in sport competitions was not based anymore on sports merits, but on purely political decisions,” Bach said last week. “So we had to act against our own values and our own mission, which is to unify the entire world in peaceful competition. We had, in fact, to protect this intricate integrity of the competitions.

“What we never did, and we never wanted to do, is prohibiting athletes from participating in sports only because of their passport.”

Bach and leaders in the Olympic movement have said since at least September that they are discussing how Russian and Belarusian athletes who do not endorse the war could return in the future.

Olympic leaders, including U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee board chair Susanne Lyons, have said this does not mean that they are advocating for the athletes to be allowed back into competition at this point.

Olympic leaders decided at a summit last week that if and when the athlete bans are lifted, they would return under “a stricter neutrality,” Lyons said, than occurred at past competitions when Russian athletes competed independently due to the nation’s doping sanctions. In those cases, Russians did not have their national flag or anthem but sometimes had national colors as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” or “Russian Olympic Committee” athletes.

“The sanctions are very specific,” Lyons said on Monday. “It can’t be the colors. it can’t be the name of the country.”

In his call with Bach, Zelenskyy also noted IOC support for Ukraine and called on the IOC to “contribute to the restoration of the sports infrastructure in Ukraine destroyed by Russia,” according to the release.

“The only fair response to such actions is complete isolation of the terrorist state on the international stage. In particular, this applies to international sports events,” according to the Ukraine president’s office release. “According to [Zelenskyy], the silence of athletes, coaches and officials condones aggression, and Russia uses sports for propaganda purposes.”

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